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Costa Mesa planning commissioners reject bid to install LED billboards at Triangle Square

A rendering of an LED billboard proposed for 19th Street and Newport Boulevard, at Costa Mesa's Triangle Square.
A rendering of an LED billboard proposed for the corner of 19th Street and Newport Boulevard, at Costa Mesa’s Triangle Square.
(Courtesy of Selbert Perkins Design)

Costa Mesa planning commissioners on Monday rejected a proposal to install LED billboards at the Triangle Square shopping center, claiming the electronic signs defy the spirit of the city’s sign ordinance and might constitute a special privilege.

The three billboards — whose combined area totals nearly 2,600 square feet — are part of a planned signing program intended to update the façade of the struggling retail complex, generate ad revenue and bolster tenancy.

Commissioners were asked to recommend to the City Council a 30-year development agreement that, in part, outlined how the city would earn a portion of the ad revenue from off-site entities that would promote themselves on the sign.

The proposed agreement stipulated the city would earn $150,000 annually plus 10% of net revenues earned beyond $1 million. City officials could also use part of the digital real estate to display community announcements and events.

The matter was discussed during a Feb. 8 public hearing but continued to Monday to allow property owner Tyler Mateen to answer questions and adjust elements of the proposal. Meanwhile, a petition circulated by residents who believe the billboards would distract drivers and reduce Costa Mesans’ quality of life has garnered nearly 900 signatures.

The Costa Mesa Planning Commission rejected a proposal to install LED billboards at the Triangle Square shopping center.
The Costa Mesa Planning Commission rejected a proposal to install LED billboards at the Triangle Square shopping center.
(Courtesy of Selbert Perkins Design)

Mateen said Monday he hoped to win the city’s support by working collaboratively to address issues.

“Triangle Square is an extension of the community, and the success of the center as a thriving entertainment hub will benefit downtown Costa Mesa and the greater community,” he said, estimating full tenancy could create 750 jobs.

“These signs are absolutely necessary for the center to succeed,” Mateen continued.

Tweaking earlier iterations, a 58-foot by 20-foot digital billboard planned for the complex’s main dome was lowered to reduce light trespass into nearby neighborhoods, while two other LED displays were altered or shrunk to fit in better with the surrounding area.

Mateen agreed to reinvest 50% of net advertising revenue generated by the signs into capital improvements at the property, located at 1870 Harbor Blvd. and 1875 Newport Blvd.

The speed at which advertisements or messages would change was also slowed down, from 8-second intervals to 20 seconds, to avoid potential driver distraction. Consultant Clifford Selbert of Selbert Perkins Design said the light could further be controlled remotely to reduce glare and brightness.

Several people spoke both for and against the sign plan during Monday’s virtual meeting.
Several people spoke both for and against the sign plan during Monday’s virtual meeting.
(Courtesy of Selbert Perkins Designs)

“The sign, from previous evaluations, is now smaller, it’s physically lower, it’s dimmer and it’s static, based on this 20-second regeneration process,” Selbert said of the most prominent dome billboard. “Now, it exceeds the most stringent lighting recommendations for digital signs.”

The commission received more than 150 comments on the project, and several people spoke both for and against the sign plan during Monday’s virtual meeting.

Shaan Mehta, owner of Inland Empire-based Aspire Salon Studios, said he’s been in talks with Mateen about opening a studio in the Costa Mesa shopping center but would be hesitant to move forward without some kind of assurance efforts will be taken to correct the center’s “state of disrepair.”

“My concern is, without generating some sort of revenue to get that place fixed up, any investments I make to come into the center will be for naught,” Mehta told commissioners.

Katie Arthur, one of a few Costa Mesa residents who’ve led the charge against the proposal, questioned whether the advertisement of off-site products and services would truly benefit the city or Triangle Square tenants.

Residents outside Costa Mesa City Hall on Monday follow the progress of the city Planning Commission meeting.
Dale Luther, Stella Adkins, Barbara Ecan, and Mary Spadoni outside Costa Mesa City Hall Monday came to show their opposition to bringing LED billboards to the city’s Triangle Square shopping center.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“The signs are aesthetically unattractive and would change the character of our city,” Arthur said. “And we’d receive a paltry sum of $150,000 per year at great cost to the residents. We definitely would not be compensated for the blight this would cause.”

Those on the dais added their own comments and questions to the mix, but Commissioner Russell Toler ultimately made a motion not to adopt a resolution recommending the project to the Costa Mesa City Council, which will have the final say.

He said the project’s planned signing program fails to meet two critical findings — consistency with the intent behind Costa Mesa’s sign ordinance, which strives to “maintain an aesthetically pleasing environment,” and prohibitions against special privileges that would give a business greater visibility than regulations allow.

“Residents have emphatically said they do not find the signage to be pleasant and aesthetically pleasing, and that’s what the finding requires,” the commissioner said.

“This signing program would allow nearly double the amount of signage that our codes would allow — so it pretty straightforwardly fails the test in that required finding,” Toler continued. “Those are the two reasons I can’t support this project, despite the fact that I do like it.”

Commissioner Jon Zich said he, too, would not support the plan.

“When the council gets this in front of them…I don’t want them to just hear the sizzle that’s being sold to them, I want them to see the steak,” he said. “And this one is not worth buying.”

Commissioners voted 6-0 not to recommend the project to the council.

Mateen said in an email Tuesday he’d done everything possible to address safety concerns and present a project that would benefit both Triangle Square and the city.

“I’m disappointed that the amended plan we presented wasn’t approved,” he concluded. “We are now evaluating our next steps with the City Council.”

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